When center Hunter Dickinson was recruited by Michigan coach Juwan Howard in 2019, the young big man knew right away that Howard could help him develop. 

“(Hunter) pointed directly to Juwan and said, ‘you can coach me to be great,’ ” assistant coach Phil Martelli told reporters on a Zoom call on Tuesday afternoon.

Three Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards and seven wins later, Dickinson has proven to be great and then some. He currently leads Michigan in scoring with 15.3 points per game on 69.4 percent shooting from the floor and has totaled 8.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. In a year where freshmen have had less time than ever to prepare for their debut campaigns, Dickinson looked at home from the first game. While many are surprised by his quick ascent, Dickinson’s former AAU teammate and freshman forward Terrance Williams sees his success as expected.

“I knew he was gonna thrive in the Big Ten because of the way he plays,” Williams said. “He’s a big man, he’s very physical, he can bump with other big men so he’s very skilled on the low block and outside on the perimeter. So I’m really not surprised by all the accolades he’s getting. I hope he gets more.”

While he is currently the team’s starting center, Dickinson began the season on the bench, playing behind redshirt senior Austin Davis. After Davis went down with a plantar fasciitis injury in a 91-71 win over Toledo on Dec. 9, Dickinson found himself thrust into the starting lineup. Despite no longer being on the court, Davis remains one of the most important and essential voices in Dickinson’s world.

“Going against him every day in practice I think really just gave me what a real Big Ten experience was like, and I got that for two to three months, and so I was able to prepare every day,” Dickinson said. “So now when we get to the games, I don’t think I’ve faced a big man as strong as Austin.”

Despite being appreciated by his teammates for his play on the court, Dickinson is arguably even more beloved off of it. Martelli said that Dickinson is considered one of the funniest players on the team and is consistently able to lift the spirits of those around him even when things may not be going their way. 

“He’s not a goof,” Martelli said. “He’s legitimately funny, and you don’t usually find that in young people anymore.”

The Wolverines will need to maintain high morale as they continue their conference slate. With nine teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25 poll (including Michigan at No. 16), the conference truly seems to have no bottom half. If the Wolverines are to find themselves on top of the standings come March, Dickinson will almost certainly be one of the key factors, and he believes that his squad has what it takes to reach the summit of the toughest conference in the nation.

“It’s very important,” Dickinson said. “Like you said there’s a lot of uncertainty. Games may or may not happen — it’s not even in your hands if it happens or not. So it’s very important for us to keep this hot streak going. Big Ten’s definitely gonna be a whole lotta work to win it, but I think if we keep trusting in the coaches and trusting in each other, I think we’ll have a good chance.”

As Dickinson prepares to head to his home state of Maryland to play the Terrapins on Dec. 31, he is reminded that despite growing up in their backyard he was not recruited by Maryland coach Mark Turgeon. While he felt disrespected to not be recruited by his hometown school, Dickinson wouldn’t have written his story any other way. 

“I’m really glad with where I am right now,” Dickinson said. “I’m 100 percent saying this is the spot for me, I’m happy to be here at Michigan.”

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